Two weeks ago the summer holidays ended and school started back. Exercise books were handed out. Homework was set. Exams were planned. And at the same time millions of school children started looking forward to October half term. School students cope with the work, revision and exams because they know it won't last forever. They live looking forwards. We all look forwards to something: the holiday, the new job, the exam result, the weekend… Followers of Jesus are to live looking forwards too, to something far better.
In Jesus' time people were expecting the Christ, God's King, to start his earthly reign in power. The disciples though Jesus would defeat their enemies and rule from Jerusalem as God's king. Jesus is God's king. But he taught that first he must die, rise, ascend to heaven and return in power in the future. He comes first to die and rise, and will come again the future. In our passage today Jesus corrects his disciples thinking, but he'll also correct our thinking too about his second coming. So let's pray now that the Spirit would be at work in our hearts this morning…
At this point in the book of Luke Jesus is in Jerusalem. He is preparing his disciples to live in the light of his death, resurrection and future return. We join the story where Jesus and his disciples are in the temple. As they stand admiring the architecture Jesus says in verse 6 one day the temple will be destroyed. It seems from their question the disciples assume the destruction of the temple will coincide with the coming of God's king in power. So they ask, "When will these things happen?"
So Jesus says wars, earthquakes and famines will come before his second coming. But before all that persecution will come on God's people. Why does Jesus tell them this? He's preparing them for the persecution to come. He wants them to remain faithful to him until he returns in power. That's my first point this morning: Remain Faithful (8-19).
Look with me at verse 12:
"But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors on account of my name."
Jesus spoke of the rejection the church would face from it's first days recorded in Acts to the persecution his people face today across the world. He gives his followers an encouragement to persevere. In verse 15 we see Jesus will help them by the Holy Spirit to testify in times of trial:
"For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict."
Let me give you an example of that. In Cambodia, under the dictator Pol Pot, followers of Jesus were persecuted. The book Killing Fields Living Fields sketches out the true story of the execution of a Christian teacher called Haim and his family at the hands of the dictatorship. Just as they are about to executed one of Haim's children ran away into the jungle. This is what the book records Haim to have said to his son and executors:
"What comparison, my son," he called out, "stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness, a fugitive, wretched and alone, to joining your family here momentarily around this grave but soon around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?" After a few minutes the bushes parted, and the lad, weeping, walked slowly back to his place with the kneeling family. "Now we are ready to go," Haim told the soldiers."
I take it that kind of testimony made by father and son can only be made under the power of the Spirit. What took place in Cambodia pictures what Jesus speaks of in verses 16-17:
"You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me."
Jesus reminds his disciples that following him will mean sharing in his rejection. For some that may mean death like in Cambodia; for some it will mean a more general sharing in his rejection. Even this week a friend expressed a fear of being know as a Christian in the workplace in case they were seen as a bigot. So it's worth asking, if persecution comes with following Jesus – is it worth it? Come with me to verse 18:
"But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life."
Jesus says yes it's worth it! Even if you lose your life, even if you lose your professional reputation, you will live! You will be free forever in paradise one day!
There is a cost to following Jesus. But Jesus says count the cost and you will see it is worth it. We do this all the time. A number of our youth sat exams over the summer. It's dull sitting inside revising all day. But after a few months it's over and it's worth it for the prize. Following Jesus involves a far greater cost, but a far greater prize. Jesus says, "Remain faithful, it's worth it!"
If we are to remain faithful we need to be certain of the future. Jesus wants his disciples to be confident. That is my second point: Remain Confident (20-33). Firstly Jesus outlines that Jerusalem will fall under judgment in verses 20-24. These words came true in AD 70 when the Romans violently invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Secondly Jesus says the whole world will fall under judgment when He comes in power at a later time. Come with me to verse 27:
"At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
The Son of Man is one of the names Jesus called himself. It's taken from the book of Daniel where God gives his authority to one looking like a son of man. Jesus says, "That's me! I'm the one given all authority by the Father! I'm God's king"
When he comes he will do two things. Firstly, he will bring redemption to his people. Redemption means deliverance on payment of a price. At the cross Jesus paid the price for his people to be delivered from judgment to salvation. When he returns, heaven will descend to earth and God's people will enjoy the fullest benefits of their redemption. They will be forever free in paradise.
Imagine a dad promises to take his daughter out for meal. He pays up front. The meal belongs to the daughter now! But she won't receive the final fulfilment of the promise until her dad takes her to the restaurant. So she really looks forward to it! So it is with followers of Jesus. The Father has redeemed us at the price of the Son now. Yet we look forward to the final fulfilment of our redemption when Jesus returns. Our salvation is now but not yet!
So Jesus says, "lift up your heads." He says live longing for the day when you will enjoy the fullest benefits of your redemption!
Secondly, Jesus will bring judgment on those who have rejected God's offer of redemption. Jerusalem was judged in AD 70 because it rejected Jesus. Jesus says be warned, if you don't want the redemption I freely offer, then all that will be left will be rejection.
Jesus wants us to be absolutely sure about what is coming. That is the point of his parable in verses 29-31:
"He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things coming, you know that the kingdom of God is near."
When trees sprout leaves you can be sure summer is on its way. The Temple in Jerusalem has already been destroyed. It is a sign that the next stop in salvation history is the return of Jesus.
Jesus gives his followers a general outline of salvation history, but he does not give us specific dates and times. In fact he warns us in verse 8 of those who claim to know specific dates and times:
"He said watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, "I am he," and, "The time is near." Do not follow them."
So if someone says, "I've added up all the numbers in the Bible and it means Jesus is coming back next Tuesday" be suspicious. Jesus wants us to be confident of his return, but humbly confident. We are not to arrogantly guess the dates (as if we could!), but we are to remain watchful. That is my final point: Remain Watchful (34-38).
What are we to watch in the first instance? We're to watch our hearts. Come with me to verse 34:
"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap."
Our hearts, in Bible speak, are the control centres of our lives. Our hearts are all set on something. They are not neutral. So Jesus warns us about letting our hearts be ruled by anything but him.
First he warns us about carousing which is improper behaviour such as giving yourself over to lust or drunkenness. If we let our hearts be set on anything but Jesus we're in danger of giving up on Him, and his return will be like a fatal trap.
If you think, "Na, I wouldn't walk away from Jesus to indulge in lust," then you are perhaps in the most danger. A friend of mine found himself getting into inappropriate conversations with a colleague at work. My friend was immediately convicted of their sin, turned from it and in the end changed jobs to flee from it. But my friend said to me, "Tom, I didn't think I was that kind of person." But that's precisely why Jesus warns us. This side of heaven, sin is still present in us. We must be careful of our hearts.
The other dangers Jesus warns us to watch out for are the anxieties of life. Anxiety is over concern. It is right to be concerned for our relationships, families and work; but it is wrong to be over concerned, to the point where such fears rule our lives. And these fears are far more sneaky. Again, if you think, "I would never walk away from Jesus over anxieties," you are in the most danger.
A member of my family used to lead a small group in his church. He had a young family. He received a promotion at work. He bought a house that needed work. Suddenly there were reasons he was too busy for church family. He was over concerned with good things. Where is he now with Jesus? I'm not sure. What might be pulling your heart away from Jesus?
But Jesus gives us a positive instructions too. Firstly, he says "Be always on watch." That is he wants us to be ready for his return. We do that by remaining faithful servants. Imagine you had a great great auntie who wrote to you saying she was arriving this month. She has no mobile to ring! Her letter is not precise so you get on with your life, but none the less you prepare to receive her. Likewise with Jesus we don't know when he'll come, but we know he will. So we prepare for his return by serving him as usual, but also by being ready to receive him when he comes.
Secondly, Jesus says in 36:
"pray that you will be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
Given the pressures of persecution and life we can only remain faithful in God's power. We express that dependence on his power in prayer. Are you depending on his power? Do you see it is God's means to sustain your trust in Him?
If we keep our trust in Jesus until the end then we will stand before him. That means we will gain life. We will enjoy the fullest benefits of redemption! We will be free forever in paradise!
Let's wrap up. Followers of Jesus are to live looking forward. Because the Christ will return in power. So let us remain faithful; let's remain confident and let's remain watchful.